Louis Slobodkin papers , 1927-1972

Overview of the Collection

Slobodkin, Louis, 1903-1975
Louis Slobodkin papers
1927-1972 (inclusive)
17.75 linear feet, (17 containers)
Collection Number
Ax 733
Louis Slobodkin (1903-1975) was an artist and illustrator and writer of books for children. He won the Caldecott Medal in 1943 for Many Moons. The collection contains artwork, manuscripts, correspondence, publicity, photographs, and memorabilia.
University of Oregon Libraries, Special Collections and University Archives
UO Libraries--SCUA
1299 University of Oregon
Eugene OR
Telephone: 5413463068
Access Restrictions

Collection is open to the public. Collection must be used in Special Collections and University Archives Reading Room. Collection or parts of collection may be stored offsite. Please contact Special Collections and University Archives in advance of your visit to allow for transportation time.

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Funding for encoding this finding aid was provided through a grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Historical NoteReturn to Top

Louis Slobodkin, sculptor, illustrator, and author, was born in Albany, New York on February 19, 1903, son of Nathan and Dora (nee Lubin) Slobodkin. He attended the Beaux Arts Institute of Design in New York City from 1918 to 1923. Slobodkin married Florence Gersh on September 27, 1927, and they raised two sons, Lawrence and Michael.

Louis Slobodkin was a noted sculptor. He won twenty-two medals from the Beaux Arts Institute of Design during the period 1918 to 1922, a Louis Tiffany Foundation Fellowship in 1932, Honorable Mention in competition for the Chicago War Memorial, 1932, and various commissions in federal competitions. He frequently served on art juries throughout the 1940s and 1950s.

Slobodkin first achieved fame in 1938 when his "Young Lincoln" statue, which had won a place in the Federal Building at the 1940 World's Fair, was summarily removed and destroyed by an official of the Fair. Slobodkin's many friends in the art world rallied to his cause, and eventually a bronze version of the plaster original was permanently placed in the Headquarters Building of the Department of the Interior in Washington, D. C.

In 1941, his sketching drew the attention of a friend, Eleanor Estes, who asked him to illustrate her book, The Moffats (Harcourt Brace, 1941). The book was well received, and a new career for Slobodkin was launched. In 1943, he illustrated James Thurber's Many Moons (Harcourt Brace, 1943), and this book won the Caldecott Medal. Between 1941 and 1972 Slobodkin illustrated, or collaborated on, or wrote and illustrated at least eighty-two titles. Notable among these are the Moffat books with Eleanor Estes, Many Moons with Thurber, and his own Magic Michael (MacMillan, 1944), Fo'castle Waltz (Vanguard, 1945), Sculpture: Principles and Practice (World, 1949), The Space Ship Under the Apple Tree (MacMillan, 1952), One Is Good but Two Are Better (Vanguard, 1956), Yasu and the Strangers (MacMillan, 1965), and the Read-About series (Frankin Watts 1966, 1967). Two of these books are for adult readers-- Fo'castle Waltz and Sculpture: Principles and Practice--while the rest are for children.

Louis Slobodkin's books have been translated into many foreign languages, including French, Norwegian, German, Italian, and Japanese. They have shown considerable staying power, some remaining in print for over thirty years, and often excerpted for anthologies and curriculum materials.

As Slobodkin's reputation as an author and illustrator grew, he came to be much in demand as a speaker at library association conventions and book fairs. His "chalk talks", given to large audiences of children, were always well received. Slobodkin's gently humorous books generated a steady stream of fan mail, which he carefully answered, addressing the children as equals and encouraging them to place their creativity on a foundation of hard work, as he himself had done.

Louis Slobodkin died in 1975.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

The focus of the Louis Slobodkin Papers is his work as an author and illustrator of books, primarily children's books. The collection consists of manuscripts, artwork, incoming and outgoing letters, publicity and memorabilia. Manuscripts typically begin with a pencil holograph draft in an unruled spiral-bound or composition notebook. Early studies or page layouts are also found in these, sometimes standing alone. Usually there is no title, date or author's signature in these.

From the notebooks, Louis Slobodkin dictated to Florence Slobodkin as she sat at the typewriter. This produced a draft which he could go over with his pencil, making deletions, corrections and revisions. Then Florence Slobodkin would retype, and after the new draft was proofed, it was sent to the editor, usually at Macmillan or Vanguard, who often sent it back for still more revision. (The best example in the collection is The Seaweed Hat, for which we have at least twelve versions.)

Louis Slobodkin would then go back to his initial sketches and rough layouts, design the book in his head, and mark the typescript with page breaks to match up the illustrations with the text. Then, he would work up his final drawings, including those for the book cover and jacket. Much of this work is in ink and watercolor, some in ink and pastel. There are a number of books by other authors for which he did ink line drawings only, such as The Moffats by Eleanor Estes, but he much preferred to work in full color, trying to achieve maximum impact from very bright primary colors (see Magic Michael, Clear the Tracks, The Cowboy Twins, and Jonathan and the Rainbow). It is interesting to note the deterioration in delicate details, so important to his gently humorous style, in the transition from the key drawing to the finished book. Louis Slobodkin was often at odds with the printers over this, not only because he wanted to preserve the integrity of his artistic conceptions, but because he believed children were conscious of quality in books, and chose accordingly. This point is documented in the series of publishers' letters and in several speeches and radio scripts, all of which are part of the collection.

Administrative InformationReturn to Top

Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

Subject Terms

  • Authors, American--20th century--Correspondence
  • Children's literature, American--Authorship
  • Children's literature, American--Illustrations
  • Illustrated children's books--United States--Specimens
  • Illustrators--United States

Personal Names

  • Slobodkin, Louis, 1903-1975

Form or Genre Terms

  • Book illustrations
  • Correspondence
  • Photographs